Originally published in BCN 54: Mar 2002 with additional footnotes added in June 2020.
January  saw the 15th anniversary of the start of the Edinburgh bisexual helpline (RIP). It almost saw the end of the London one.
After over 13 years of letting it use a phone line in his West London flat, Ian Saxton moved to somewhere in Berkshire. The new people were due to move into his old flat the following weekend.
While I am of course incredibly grateful to him for his help over past years – especially when the helpline operated by connecting two phone lines together with an expensive but appallingly unreliable box of tricks that he had to keep kicking – I would also really rather have liked to have had more than two days notice of the move. Oh well.
For almost seven years, we've been operating with a single line. Most times of the week, callers to the helpline get through to an answerphone. Its message tells them to go away… and call back when we're open. At those times, we use a service BT now call 'Smart Divert' — we were one of the first to use it in the UK! — which enables us to divert calls to the helpline's number to (almost) anywhere else in the world, from anywhere in the world.
So volunteers can do shifts anywhere that's convenient and callers don't know the difference. We pay the cost of diverting the call 'from' the flat to wherever the shift is being done plus a quarterly fee for the privilege of letting BT charge twice for one call, but that's less than the previous cost of having two lines. And as the line is only open at evenings and weekends, the diversion call costs are minimal.
Now, with Ian gone, we were in trouble. Especially as I had to remove the helpline's answerphone while he was still there, so for one week callers 'outside hours' only got a ringing tone.
Something had to be done… but what, exactly? Read more